THE ELECTION Commission (EC) has cleared Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and AAP MLA Surinder Singh of allegations levelled in two complaints of ‘Office of Profit’ referred to it by President Pranab Mukherjee. Last year, BJP leader Vivek Garg had urged the President to cancel Sisodia’s membership to the state assembly as there is no provision for the post of deputy chief minister in the NCT of Delhi Act making it an ‘Office of Profit’. His petition was forwarded by Mukherjee’s office for EC’s opinion.
The President had also referred a complaint against AAP MLA from Delhi Cantonment, Surinder Singh, accusing him of profiting from his membership of New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) by illegally occupying four government flats. The Commission’s decision to clear the two MLAs, which was sent to the President’s office recently, is significant against the backdrop of allegations levelled by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal against election commissioners O P Rawat and A K Joti.
Kejriwal had earlier questioned the impartiality of the EC claiming that Rawat and Joti were close to the ruling dispensation at the Centre. Rawat, subsequently, had recused himself from hearing all cases and complaints related to AAP “to protect (the) Commission’s credibility”. The EC’s decision in favour of Sisodia and Singh, however, was taken before Rawat recused himself. Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi did not respond to requests from The Indian Express seeking comment. The President’s office, so far, has referred four ‘Office of Profit’ cases against AAP legislators.
The first complaint, currently being heard by the poll panel, demands disqualification of 21 AAP MLAs on the ground that they were unconstitutionally appointed as parliamentary secretaries to assist various ministers of the Delhi government. The second petition seeks disqualification of 27 legislators for holding ‘Office of Profit’ as chairpersons of patient welfare committees in various Delhi government hospitals.
The complaints against Sisodia and Singh are the first ‘Office of Profit’ cases to be disposed of by the ECI. The Sunday Express has learnt that the Commission wasn’t convinced about the allegation against Sisodia on the ground that the post of Deputy Chief Minister has also been created in other states, and the country has even had a deputy prime minister at one point. However, EC’s opinion in the two cases will have no bearing on the complaints regarding disqualification of 21 and 27 AAP MLAs, respectively.
The term ‘Office of Profit’ has been defined in the Constitution, which prohibits Members of Parliament and MLAs from accepting government positions which carry some financial remuneration or any other benefit such as office space or even a car. Any violation of this provision attracts disqualification of the legislator. The aim of this provision is to preserve the independence of the legislature by keeping its members away from any temptations from the executive. The poll panel’s opinion is instrumental in deciding ‘Office of Profit’ complaints.
In 2006, Jaya Bachchan was expelled from the Rajya Sabha based on EC’s opinion, because she was also the chairperson of the Uttar Pradesh Film Development Council, deemed an office of profit. In the same year, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had resigned as Lok Sabha MP following an uproar over her being appointed as chairperson of National Advisory Council under UPA-I, which the Opposition alleged was an ‘Office of Profit’.